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Southern Italian Flare in Birmingham!

Posted by bhamfoodscoop on May 29, 2012

Recently I met some local foodies at Bettola Restaurant, which is located at Pepper Place in the Lakeview District. This quaint, dynamic, & eclectic eatery serves up authentic Southern Italian food. Several of their classic dishes include the signature Neopolitan pizzas that are cooked in a wood-fired Neapolitan pizza oven— which was handcrafted in Naples, Italy and shipped to Birmingham. This oven is capable of cooking a pizza in 90 seconds.

This was my first visit to Bettola and I had no idea what to expect, but let’s just say that I’m so glad that I visited. Upon arriving to dinner, I saw my guests sitting on the outdoor patio and I began to greet each and every one. And as we slowly began to trickle in, the atmosphere seemed to liven up and greatness was being created. On this warm evening, I met a diverse group of people that seemed to be a wonderful reflection of this great city and community of Birmingham. More specifically, my large party consisted of people of different races, ages, occupations, perspectives, and many more various characteristics. Earlier in the day, I was wondering how would I get all of these people to converse amongst each other because I thought that these various differences would be a hindrance, however, I was completely wrong. The conversation just flowed throughout the entire night.

I was amazed to see that the restaurant had assigned just one waitress to take care of 14 people, but she did an amazing job. Our experience was truly personalized by the restaurant and the customer service that we received rivaled that of many others. Everyone started out with drinks, homemade bread & marinated olives (contain pits/seeds). Not long after, the staff surprised us and brought out complementary antipasti’s for the entire table. These antipasti’s included a calamari dish, prepared by the owner especially for us; it consisted of squid, arugula, garbanzo beans, and thinly sliced ginger. I thoroughly enjoyed this dish, but a few other people felt differently about it.

The next antipasti was served to us on a long wooden board, which had prosciutto, capicola ham, house sausage, salame mostrano (salami), two special types of cheese, pickled vegetables, & dried apricots in a housemade glaze. Everyone loved at least one thing from this special dish.

After enjoying the drinks and antipasti’s, I discovered that this was going to be a long night because I still had to order an entree and a dessert, but I definitely wasn’t complaining. For an entree I ordered the Tagliatelle alla Bolognese (pasta) which was made with House-Made Tagliatelle Pasta, Ragu Bolognese, Two-Year Aged Parmigiano Reggiano. This dish was delicious and filling; I would order it again.

Everyone else ordered a variety of dishes, but the main dish that our group ordered were the variety of signature pizzas. For example, here is the Quattro Stagioni which is made with Cotto Ham, Artichokes, Mushrooms, Black Olives.

Not everyone got a dessert, but I couldn’t pass up on the opportunity. So I got the Torta di Mandorle which consisted of Burnt Butter-Vanilla-Almond Cake, Mascarpone Cream, Toasted Almonds. It was scrumptious but there was no way that I could eat it all. The cake was moist on the inside and had a wonderful vanilla almond flavor.

The lady sitting next to me ordered the Torta Cioccolata Warm Truffle Chocolate Baked in Toasted Almond Tart, Espresso Gelato, Toasted Almonds. She really enjoyed this dish and I sampled it; it was good but I’m not a big fan of coffee flavored ice cream and it was really rich.

Overall our entire restaurant experience was phenomenal and I can’t wait to return. The owner and chef James Lewis has definitely created a gem. The prices range from $15-$25 per entree. So I encourage you to visit Bettola Restaurant and sample the authentic flavors of Southern Italy, without even having to leave Birmingham. Grazie!

Bettola on Urbanspoon

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Posted in Italian, Pizza, Upscale | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

A Taste of France in Birmingham!

Posted by bhamfoodscoop on February 28, 2011

There are not too many French restaurants in Birmingham, Alabama, but tonight a group of 13 friends and I were fortunate enough to eat at one of them, Cafe de Paris. The restaurant is located in the Lakeview District, near St. Vincents Hospital.

Cafe de Paris is a quaint and quiet restaurant that is the brainchild of two local French chefs. Their goal is to make us, Southerners, aware of the exquisite flavors of French cuisine. Upon entering the restaurant, I felt like I was in good hands with our two waiters and the host; they answered our every whim and they all worked well together. The staff embraces a typical European attitude, which is to not rush customers in any way. This means the food was brought out at a leisurely pace and the staff made sure that we savored every moment of our visit. For example, between each course we waited for approximately 30-45 minutes for the next one. We definitely weren’t rushed by any means!

However, while we waited for our food the waiters kept bringing us baskets of homemade bread chips. The bread chips were small pieces of bread that were slightly crunchy but still very soft; the bread had somewhat of a sweet taste. The bread was served warm and we spread butter on top of each piece, for an extra flavor. I couldn’t get enough of this bread, it was excellent!

Furthermore, our group ordered from a special menu, that consisted of the following:

Appetizers:

Tomato Salad with chopped cherry tomatoes, a spring lettuce mix, and a lite vinaigrette. The person who had this dish says that it was ok, but she wasn’t a fan of the vinaigrette.

French Onion Soup with a french onion broth, chopped onions, topped off with  a piece of toasted bread (same bread as I mentioned above) and shredded cheddar melted cheese. Many people, including myself, ordered this dish and it received rave reviews. I was very pleased with the taste because I’m normally not a fan of French Onion Soup, but I really enjoyed this version.

The Shrimp Cocktail wasn’t on our special menu. It consisted of a nice silver bowl of salad(lettuce, tomato, avocado) and it had five medium sized steamed shrimp on the rim of the bowl. This dish was served with a special dipping sauce for the shrimp and I guess you could also use it as a salad dressing. Those who sampled this dish all agreed that the sauce had a very familiar taste. Furthermore, the person that ordered this appetizer wasn’t too pleased with the taste of the shrimp or the special dressing.

Stuffed Grape Leaves consisted of cooked grape leaves stuffed with tuna fish salad, and tomatoes. The grape leaves were topped off with caramelized onions. Not many people liked the taste of this dish, but I must say that I really enjoyed it.

Chicken Salad Twist consisted of a pesto grilled chicken salad on top of a ritz cracker. This appetizer was a hit that everyone loved.

Entrees:

Grilled Chateau Tender Beef consisted of medium strips of  grilled steak, roasted potatoes, steamed cabbage, grilled onions, and a special gravy. Everyone who ordered this dish, only had positive things to say about it. The steak was tender and seasoned well.

Crusted Tilapia consisted of a large piece of pan seared tilapia encrusted in bread crumbs (some people say they didn’t get enough fish), roasted potatoes, steamed cabbage, chopped tomatoes, grilled onions, and a special white sauce. I ordered this dish, and I must say that I’m very particular about any fish that I order, and this fish had a few bones in it. Personally, I can’t stand fish with bones because I’m constantly trying not to swallow one. Despite the bones being in the fish, the fish had a good taste and everything else was good. Everyone who ordered this felt the same way, especially about the few bones in the fish.

Pan Seared Salmon consisted of  medium sized  pieces of seared salmon, roasted potatoes, steamed cabbage, tomatoes, and a special sauce. Everyone who had this dish seemed to have been satisfied.

Desserts:

Bread Pudding consisted of homemade bread pudding with a small scoop of vanilla ice cream, and chocolate & caramel swirls. I hate to say that none of us liked this dish, each person had their reasons, but my reasons were that it was hard, it didn’t have a good taste, and it wasn’t warm enough for my standards. Only one person ate it all, and that’s because he doesn’t like to waist food. In order to make up for this, our waiter, brought out another dessert for us to share. It was the Chocolate Truffle Cake and we all loved it! It was served hot and consisted of a chocolate cake filled with rich melting chocolate and topped off with a scoop of vanilla ice cream. Each person was able to get one bite of this dessert. I would definitely order this again!

Poached Pear in a Red Wine consisted of  a pear poached in red wine, topped off with a scoop of vanilla ice cream and drizzles of chocolate. Only one person ordered this dish because we all thought that the bread pudding was going to be amazing. The recipient of this dessert definitely enjoyed it, I sampled it, and I must say that it was rather tasty. I would also order this again.

Our visit to Cafe de Paris was filled with exciting new dishes and we enjoyed trying each one. Some of the food tasted wonderful and some of the food was not as good. It all boils down to personal taste! But I will say that the chefs at Cafe de Paris are passionate about making good food and they are willing to accommodate guests in any way that they can.

I really appreciated the wonderful customer service, and a highlight of the night was Serge (one of the chefs and owners of the restaurant) coming to visit our table after we ate, and he thanked us for visiting the restaurant in French, and then he translated what he said in English. The staff treated us like royalty and I had an exciting Parisian experience!

http://www.cafedeparis.us/

Café de Paris on Urbanspoon

Posted in Date Night, Downtown Eats, French | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments »

Nabeel’s Cafe & Market

Posted by bhamfoodscoop on January 21, 2011

Nabeel’s Cafe serves Greek  & Mediterranean dishes. The restaurant is quaint and so cozy that it caused me to leave all of my distractions at the door; I was literally transplanted to a  country in Europe.

Next door to the restaurant, is a corner market that allows guests to buy Greek and Mediterranean groceries; such as meats, pastries, drinks, spices, and pre-cooked meals.

Upon our arrival, the owner took our jackets and sat us at a table next to the fire place; I felt so at home. Furthermore, this was the beginning of a “foodtastic” night that I wasn’t expecting!

Our Appetizers consisted of the following:

  • Baked Feta Theologos: Feta seasoned with extra virgin olive oil, fresh garlic, & Greek oregano, wrapped in foil and baked. Served with toasted homemade bread. The feta spread was presented in aluminum foil that was shaped like a swan.  The feta spread almost reminded me of a garlic spread, based on taste, not presentation. There is no way to confuse garlic spread with feta spread because of the different textures and the sharp taste of the feta cheese. I gave this dish two thumbs up!

  • Bulgarian Roasted Peppers: Feta cheese with Kalamata olives, extra virgin olive oil, sprinkle of basil topped with Bulgarian roasted peppers, sundried tomatoes & sherry tomatoes. Served with Pita Wedges and homemade bread. This tomato and roasted red pepper mixture was good, I’m not used to eating anything like that. The feta served with this dish was milder, so I ate it with the chopped tomatoes, roasted red peppers and pita bread; what an amazing combination of flavors that exploded in my mouth. The olives were a bit too salty for me, but thumbs up!

  • Stuffed Grape Leaves with Feta Cheese:  Grape leaves stuffed with rice and drizzled with olive oil and lemon juice, with a side of Feta cheese. Served with Pita Wedges.Personally, I wasn’t a fan of this dish. The grape leaves had a poignant flavor that just didn’t agree with my palate. But I was told that this is one of the best selling dishes.

  • Pasta Fagioli: Italian soup made with chicken & tomato broth, pasta, beans, & vegetables. Served with a homemade slice of bread. Mom ordered this dish, and she loves it because she gets it every time that we visit.

  • Horiatiki (Peasant Greek Salad): A mix of tomatoes, cucumbers, green bell peppers, Feta, Kalamata olives, Greek oregano & red onions. Served with homemade bread. Although delicious indeed, this salad is lettuce free. I never knew that I would enjoy a salad so much, that didn’t have lettuce in it. All of the vegetables were fresh and had a sweet tangy taste, from the housemade salad dressing.

(Entree & dessert mentioned in video below)

Our beverages consisted of the restaurant’s special iced mint tea, and it was so refreshing. It wasn’t too minty, but it kept my mouth feeling clean and yearning for more.

The following is based on a scale of 1-10: (1 is the lowest and 10 is the highest)

Ambiance: 9

Service: 10

Food: 9.5

The owner (John Krontiras) and the waiter (John) both gave us stellar service and their undivided attention. Thanks so much! Also, the cooks did an amazing job on everything. I had such a wonderful time; I think that I’ll go back this weekend!

http://www.nabeels.com/

Nabeel's Cafe & Market on Urbanspoon

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Posted in Bakery, Greek/Mediterranean | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »